The Park and Kim families are a study in contrasts, living in modern day South Korea. The Kims live at the bottom of society, barely scraping by on stolen food, stolen wifi, and huddled in the smallest possible semi-basement, with only half their small living space above ground. The Kims have it all: A huge house designed by a famous architect. Fresh and plentiful food. Tutors for their kids. Glorious trees, verdant grass, and open spaces.
The Kims begin worming their way in to the Park’s lives. First their son is hired as a replacement tutor, and he recommends his mother as a replacement house keeper, his father as a driver, and sister as an art therapist. The Parks, for all their money, are both naive and dismissive of the qualities of their lower class support team, leading them to trust the Kims at their words and barely recognizing that their new servants could know each other, let alone be a part of the same scheming family.
For their part the Kims do not see their deception as hurting anyone. They see the Parks as sheep to be fleeced, and they have done the same to similar families and businesses before, with traumatic results to their victims but no shame to the Kims. This time might be different, with the literal and figurative ghost of one of their previous marks hiding in the shadows and destined to emerge at the worst possible time for both families.
The Production: 5/5
Following in the tradition of many great character studies of upper and lower class people crashing and clashing against each other, such as “High and Low”, Us, Sorry To Bother You and so many more, Parasite brings a keen eye onto inequality and morality. It layers seeming coincidences on top of disregard for the damage our actions can have and marches the participants towards a bewildering tragedy. And it does so with classic noir imagery and universal emotions and grievances. Each of the 6 principal actors (ignoring the Park children and the housekeeper and her husband) give incredibly strong performances of flawed people: The distracted rich dad. The dopey housewife. The patriarch with a plan. The driven and strong woman. The talented but unmotivated student. The slacker artist.
I first saw Parasite on an HD stream the first go around, and it was illuminating to see it here again two more times: First in full Bluray quality with an amazing Atmos soundtrack (more on that below!) and a second viewing in glorious black and white. It’s through those fresh new looks that I truly got to see what resonated so much in this film that it won Best Picture. I didn’t “get it” on first view, but after digging through all the extras here I truly do now. The references to films and directors Mr. Bong Joon Ho reveres and references stand tall on these disks, as does his vision for how it should be shot and sound, which are both crystal clear.
If I have on quibble with the film it is in the dénouement. Despite being a message of hope, to me it rings hollow and reflects the philosophy of having no plan is the best plan, and having a serious plan is folly. Ultimately it continues the indictment of the Kim family’s faults writ large.
3D Rating: NA
This pack contains glorious color and B&W editions that are downrezzed from a new 4K digital master approved by Mr. Bong Joon Ho. It’s delicately focused, sharply rendered, and precisely framed. It features a ton of pans that can be troublesome for some playback devices but otherwise looked great on both my 2020 OLED and 2018 120″ projector. Otherwise this is about as good as a film can look on a Blu-ray of this era.
Unfortunately it’s also a stark reminder that Criterion is not geared for 4K releases… yet. But when they are ready I’m sure this will be one of their first releases. Count me in when that happens.
In a word: stunning. This is the best Atmos track you will feast upon that doesn’t have a single blast, bullet or boom. Environmental cues stretch all around the room. Orchestral swells are matched with a theremin lead during a key segment. Silences are as important as the creaks and groans that break them. And the chaos of the party scene at the end is perfectly encapsulated. This is simply the best embodiment of what Atmos can do when guided by a skilled team that cares about audio as much as they do about visuals and story.
Special Features: 5/5
New 4K digital master, approved by director Bong Joon Ho and director of photography Hong Kyung Pyo, with Dolby Atmos soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New audio commentary featuring Bong and critic Tony Rayns
Black-and-white version of the film, with Dolby Atmos soundtrack and a new introduction by Bong
New conversation between Bong and critic Darcy Paquet
New interviews with Hong, production designer Lee Ha Jun, and editor Yang Jinmo
New program about the New Korean Cinema movement featuring Bong and filmmaker Park Chan-wook
Cannes Film Festival press conference from 2019 featuring Bong and members of the cast
Master class featuring Bong from the 2019 Lumière Festival in Lyon, France
PLUS: An essay by critic Inkoo Kang
All are as in depth and fascinating as you would expect from Criterion. Rayns’ interview with Bong Joon Ho is as insightful and fun as any I have ever seen. MUST SEE.
Criterion Collection does Parasite right with this disk release. PQ, Atmos, extras, a whole second version of the movie in stunning black and white that evokes the greatest films in American Cinematographic history. Commentary. Cannes interviews and more. It was enough to make me re-evaluate my standing on the film itself and the talents of Mr. Bong Joon Ho overall. My highest recommendation.
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